visual design | web development

nose of a cat

Please, Start Funding the Tools We Depend On

Everyone who builds something needs tools. A carpenter needs a saw. And when the saw gets blunt, it needs some maintenance and has to be sharpened. This is not much different in software development, though software is a collaborative effort and constantly evolving.

We know that WordPress is used on more than 40% of all websites. But it depends on many tools during development. One of those tools is PHP_CodeSniffer – PHPCS for short – to keep code consistent to the standard. It ensures that the code is readable and maintainable. PHPCS is used by almost every major PHP project, not only WordPress, but also Drupal, Joomla, Mediawiki, Magento, Laravel, etc.

PHPCS is, like WordPress, an Open Source project. This means that anyone can use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. The reality is that many people use the software, and few maintain it.

Juliette Reinders Folmer is a regular visitor of Amsterdam WordPress Meetup. She has been an important maintainer of many popular PHP and WordPress libraries. In the last decade, she has done an incredible amount of – mostly unpaid – work we all benefit from. She is the code contributor for PHPCS. Recently the maintainer of PHPCS stepped down. In the issue The Future of PHP_CodeSniffer published on December 1, 2023 she explains that while the original version of PHPCS is abandoned, the project will continue under her supervision. She is now the only, unpaid contributor to the project. More background is given by Joost de Valk on Post Status in PHPCS, a major PHP library, needs support.

The situation of Juliette and PHPCS is not unique. She would love to continue her work but obviously can’t work full time on it for free. In her Ode to PHP’s Unsung Heros (2017) she writes “Our dependency as an industry on a few key projects with only one primary maintainer is enormous.” Imagine what will happen if a solo developer makes a career shift to well-paid job or gets medical issues? Is WordPress like a Jenga tower where a stabilizing block might be removed soon?

For the future of a project you need more people working on it. Few people want to start working on a project for free. A project needs some funding to attract capable people. And with more contributors, the project gets resilient, and then other projects can safely rely on it.

It is quite humiliating that some people in the WordPress community are bragging on how much money they make, while others who really make things happen struggle to make ends meet. We all have to be aware and take responsibility for the future of the software which puts our bread on the table.

What should we do about it? The easy answer is: sponsor a developer or a project. You can sponsor Juliette personally, once or structural on GitHub Sponsors or the PHPCS project on Open Collective. But what we actually need is a model for funding lesser-known but vital Open Source software continuously. Platforms like Tide Lift and are already collecting money, but how do they fairly distribute their funds to the developers? As all software heavily depends on building blocks like PHPCS, we have to take action. Now. Please.